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+++ The boss of Australia’s primary importer of vehicles from CHINA, Ateco automotive, says commercial vehicle manufacturer LDV and its parent company SAIC are worlds apart from the likes of Great Wall, which damaged the reputation of Chinese vehicles in Australia. “One of our previous brands did a shitload of damage to ‘brand China’ by pulling out and not supplying the customers”, Neville Crichton told CarAdvice at last week’s Australian launch of the turbo-diesel LDV G10 van. Speaking far more generously of LDV’s latest offering here, Crichton said: “As far as the product goes, if you pull the badge off the LDV and put an iLoad besides it with no badging, you wouldn’t know the difference. They are as good as each other”. LDV, which will launch its own range of utes here in mid 2017, seeks to build its reputation in Australia as a Chinese manufacturer that values safety, build quality and reliability. With Crichton confirming that the upcoming LDV ute will be a 5-star ANCAP-rated vehicle and available in a variety of body styles and configurations. Even so, he freely admits that there are lingering issues with vehicles imported from China. “There are issues with the perception of Chinese vehicles and I think our predecessors did a lot of damage, and its more perception in the market, rather than in reality. These LDV guys are the biggest manufacturers in China. They’ve learnt, quality-wise, from Volkswagen and General Motors. They know how to build a car”. Compared with Great Wall – which is now back in Australia with the Steed ute under Haval management, after previously being distributed by the Sydney-based Ateco company – Crichton says the LDV vehicles are world’s apart. “We know the issues with our previous brand and these things are giving us no problems”. Asked why LDV won’t offer longer than a 3-year warranty to further back-up its claims of reliability and durability, Crichton said he didn’t feel it was necessary for now. “We don’t need to at this stage. We will sell an extended warranty if they want it”. LDV currently has 43 dealers in Australia, with that expected to rise to around 80 by the end of 2017, helped along not just by the upcoming ute, but also large and small SUVs and additional van models. +++

+++ A record quarterly revenue for GENERAL MOTORS has turned at least one set of Wall Street analysts more positive on the Detroit auto maker and persuaded them the company has an edge over rival Ford. Analysts at Morgan Stanley on Tuesday raised their price target on General Motors stock to $40 from $37, equal to upside of about 27% over Tuesday’s price level. It’s the second time in 6 weeks that the bank has raised its price target on the stock. “We believe earnings expectations are set up well into (the fourth quarter) and into 2017 where we expect the company may be in position to give a substantially more optimistic outlook for both earnings and cash flow than its cross-town rival Ford”, they said. The analysts now expect General Motors to post fiscal 2016 earnings of $6.02 a share, up from their previous forecast of $5.99 a share. Morgan Stanley last month raised its rating on General Motors stock to an equivalent of buy. At the time, the investment bank lifted its price target on the stock to $37 from $19. Shares of General Motors have underperformed the S&P 500 index SP, -0.40% significantly, down 7.5% so far this year versus gains of 3.4% for the index in the same period. Investor sentiment around General Motors remains “very low”, Morgan Stanley analysts said, as Wall Street continues to be worried about domestic auto sales, technology threats such as shared mobility and autonomous cars, and “a serious concern” that traditional auto makers like General Motors “may use precious capital to invest in technological areas that are untested, unsophisticated, out of alignment with the culture of the parent company and possibility accelerating the potential obsolescence of the core business”. General Motors reported earlier Tuesday that its sales dropped just under 2% in October to 258,626 light vehicles. General Motors has been cutting down on fleet sales, which are less profitable, to emphasize ‘retail’ sales, or sales to individuals, which rose 3% from last year, the car maker said. Led by its Chevrolet and Buick brands, General Motors’ retail market share rose to 18%, its highest October since 2009. General Motors also tried to quash concerns domestic auto sales may be on the wane: “Key fundamentals like job security, rising personal incomes, low fuel prices and low interest rates continue to provide the environment for a very healthy U.S. auto industry”, General Motors’ chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said in a statement. “The U.S. auto industry is well positioned for sales to continue at or near record levels for the foreseeable future”. +++

+++ JEEP looks set to continue its bold new styling trends as it pushes the appeal of its brand. Speaking at the launch of the 2017 Grand Cherokee in Las Vegas this week, the American brand’s head of design, Mark Allen, and global product planning chief, Colin Shaw, both expressed a desire in seeing how wide Jeep can expand as SUV sales continue to boom. Asked if Jeep’s heritage building military vehicles and the iconic Wrangler placed limits on the design of future models, Allen explained that he is looking to take the brand in a fresh direction – with one exception. “It depends on the model. The next Wrangler is going to look like this Wrangler, it’s tradition right down the line”, Allen said. “Everything else – Grand Cherokee, and you saw what we did with the Cherokee, the new Compass, the little Renegade – we can go a bit further out. It’s really model dependant”. Allen revealed he and his team are currently working on the next generation Grand Cherokee, which is reportedly due within the next 2 years; although he wouldn’t comment on official timing. “The next Grand Cherokee, what we’re doing behind the scenes right now we’re questioning everything about it”, he admitted. “And I’m not afraid of that, it’s fine. Although Jeep can be very traditional, you’ll get left behind if you’re just that guy standing there. So we’ll probably be more progressive than a lot of people will be comfortable with. I’d rather that than trying to defend something we keep doing over and over”. Asked if that suggested the next Grand Cherokee would be a significant design step, rather than a simple evolution, Allen gave some hints at where the model is headed, design-wise. “Grand Cherokee is highly successful for us and that can breed ‘well, let’s not screw it up, let’s stay the course’ or you can go on the other foot and go boldly and lead the way with it”. Shaw, who is responsible for managing Jeep’s product plans, revealed that the brand will continue to experiment with new areas via limited edition models. “Yeah, absolutely. It’s a good factory for us to push new things”, Shaw explained. “Some of them stick, like the Blackhawk, I think every model has a Blackhawk package now. You will continue to see a proliferation of that as we continue to work out where we go”. +++

+++ Ateco automotive executive chairman Neville Crichton has revealed that the independent distributor will no longer handle SSANGYONG in Australia in future and that a factory operation will take over the struggling South Korean brand. Crichton said the company is, however, committed to firing up Maserati and the 2 remaining ‘active’ Chinese brands for which it is responsible: Foton and LDV. LDV is seen as a shining light in the portfolio, with Crichton anticipating 1.600 sales this year and more than 6.000 units per annum by 2018 when key new models such as an SUV and utility are established in the marketplace. In comparison, Maserati is trending towards 600 sales this year, and Foton is heading towards 900, while SsangYong, which recorded just 332 sales to the end of September, is running dry in terms of supply – and will not be replenished, under Ateco at least. In an interview with GoAuto last week, Crichton was asked whether low, niche-style volumes for its mainstream Chinese and South Korean brands were tricky for an import business to deal with. “We can’t make money at those volumes, it has got to be bigger volume than that”, he said, revealing that the taps would be switched off for SsangYong as the focus shifts to LDV, Foton and Maserati. “We won’t be representing SsangYong in the future. We definitely need volume brands and LDV will be a volume brand”. While Crichton said a factory operation would take over SsangYong distribution in this country, Ateco Automotive director Ric Hull added: “Sales are dwindling down to nothing, there are fewer than 50 units left in dealer stock”. SsangYong and Ateco have been at loggerheads for some time over issues such as pricing and specification, which in turn has kept significant new models like the Tivoli out of local showrooms. The company took over the franchise from another independent importer, Sime Darby, in 2012 and had high hopes of increasing sales to 3.000 units within 12 months. However, SsangYong sales under Ateco went from 1.507 in 2013 to 1.280 units a year later, then fell to an even 1.000 units in 2015. Official VFACTS industry sales figures for October will be released later this week, but to the end of September SsangYong’s total of 332 new-vehicle registrations represented a 59.4 per cent downturn on the same period last year. Its Korando, Stavic and Rexton SUVs had managed only 142, 108 and 39 sales respectively, while the Actyon pick-up (which is no longer listed on the brand’ s Australian website) had found just 43 buyers over the same period. As with LDV, Crichton does not believe fellow Chinese commercial vehicle manufacturer Foton should be positioned at the bottom end of the market, although with year-to-date sales down 18.0 per cent to 684 units and just the single Tunland ute on the market, growth had not gone as planned. “We’d like to build Foton, it’s gone a wee bit slower than we like”, he said. “We’re certainly not cheap, we’re priced virtually at the bottom end of the Japanese brands with that product”. +++

+++ GM Korea, the SOUTH KOREAN unit of US automaker General Motors, will likely see its market share in South Korea grow to over 10 percent for the first time in 9 years, company officials said Wednesday. In the January-October period, GM Korea sold 144,726 vehicles in the South Korean market, accounting for 11.2 percent of 1,278,906 cars sold by 5 car manufacturers here over the cited period. The 5 local automakers include industry leader Hyundai, its smaller affiliate Kia, Ssangyong (the local unit of Indian automaker Mahindra) and Renault Samsung Motors (the local unit of Renault). GM Korea’s market share as of end-October marked a 1 percentage point gain from a year earlier. Should its annual market share breach the 10-percent mark, it will be the first time since 2007 when its local market share came to 10.3 percent. The gain in GM Korea’s domestic market share follows a series of new vehicle models launched here, including the Spark minicar and the Malibu midsized sedan. In the first 10 months of the year, the Spark sold 64,423 units, up 35.3 percent from the same period last year, according to the company. Sales of the Malibu nearly doubled over the cited period to 28,355 from 14,329. “The company will do its utmost to achieve a double-digit market share during the remainder of the year, based on growing sales of the Chevrolet Spark, the best-selling model in its segment this year, and the Malibu, which also has remained the No. 1 selling midsize car in the domestic market since June”, a company official said, while asking not to be identified. GM Korea’s efforts to secure a 10 percent or greater share have been strong but to little avail in the market nearly dominated by the local industry leader Hyundai and its smaller affiliate Kia. Hyundai and Kia, which together form Hyundai Motor Group, the world’s fifth-largest automotive group, have long enjoyed a combined market share of well over 80 percent. In the January-October period, the two affiliated automakers again took up a combined market share of 75.6 percent in the local market. “The most important objective for us is to grow in the domestic market”, GM Korea President James Kim said at the beginning of this year when the Korean-American chief of GM Korea also announced the then scheduled launch of the new Malibu and the Impala luxury sedan as part of such efforts. Against such a backdrop, GM Korea’s domestic sales have been on a steady increase in recent months, again spiking 14 percent on-year to 16,736 cars last month. Still, GM Korea is setting its own bars higher, seeking to achieve a 10 percent or greater market share among all new vehicles sold here in 2016, including commercial trucks, buses and imported vehicles. As of end-September, GM Korea’s cumulative market share for all new vehicles sold here stood at 9.7 percent, advancing from 8.6 percent in 2015 and further solidifying its position as the third-largest carmaker in South Korea. “A double-digit market share will have a significant meaning all in itself, but it is also important for us to achieve the goal in that it will show us and others like us here the possibility of growth and that local customers will purchase vehicles based on their quality and competitiveness instead of just the name they carry”, a GM Korea official said. In terms of all vehicles sold, the combined market share of the two industry leaders stood at 66.3 percent as of end-September, while that of imported vehicles came to 12.5 percent, according to data provided by GM Korea. +++

+++ SUBARU has been merely a subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), which builds everything from generators to engines for construction equipment to aerospace parts. Now, the Subaru brand will play an even bigger part in its parent company’s grand scheme, as FHI is terminating its industrial products business to focus on its core automotive brand. This will end production of engines for industrial and agricultural use, and powersports vehicles like snowmobiles and ATVs. FHI’s Omiya plant has churned out industrial products for more than 60 years, but will cease production on September 30, 2017. Production of some engines will transfer to China as part of a manufacturing joint venture. In its ‘Prominence 2020’ mid-term management plan announced in 2014, FHI listed “Enhancing the Subaru brand” as one of its main objectives. This move works toward that goal by freeing up budgets for the product development and engineering divisions and allowing management to concentrate on the automotive side of the business. FHI says the goal is to enhance the Subaru brand and achieve “even greater sustainable growth”. FHI announced earlier this year that it will change its name to Subaru Corporation on April 1, 2017, to coincide with its 100th anniversary. Prior to 1945, FHI went by the name Nakajima Aircraft Company and built some of the most feared warplanes of World War II. Subaru has seen tremendous growth in the U.S. over the past few years. Through October, sales are up 4.2 percent with 500,647 vehicles sold so far in 2016 – bucking the slumping sales trend the rest of the industry is facing. We named Subaru of America president Thomas Doll our 2016 Person of the Year for his role in elevating the brand to new heights. However, as electrification and self-driving features inch closer to entering the mainstream, automakers are realizing the tremendous costs of developing these technologies. This could be one reason for refocusing the business. +++

+++ VOLKSWAGEN officially confirmed late Wednesday that the company board will meet Friday to discuss company restructuring plans ahead of the automaker’s planned November annual meeting. According to German newspaper Handelsblatt, the Friday meeting was not originally part of the board’s plans. The sheer scope of the financial overhaul currently on the table for the scandal-plagued automaker demanded it, Reuters reports. In addition to labor-related cuts (reportedly as much as $3.7 billion Euros through 2021 from the core Volkswagen brand alone), it is expected that the company will discuss strategy overhauls in the wake of other cost-cutting, such as several of its brands’ recent withdrawals from high-profile international motorsports series. The meeting is expected to be strictly preparatory, with all final decisions coming from the upcoming scheduled board meeting on Nov. 18. +++

+++ VOLVO has doubled down on its China production gambit, shifting output away from Europe. The Swedish brand has continued to experience a successful resurgence since it was acquired by China’s Geely in 2010. Global sales have risen by 8.4 percent so far this year, putting the automaker on track for another record year thanks to strong performance in the US and China. The company’s global production strategy was put to test early last year when the first China-built S60 Inscription sedans began arriving in US showrooms. S60 deliveries are down so far this year, however a broad decline in the segment may be more of a contributing factor than any aversion to the assembly location. Coinciding with the S90 Excellence unveiling, Volvo has announced plans to further expand its manufacturing presence in China. The world’s largest automotive market will eventually become Volvo’s global production and export hub, serving growing demand in the US, Europe and the Asia Pacific. Existing and future 60-series Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) models will be built at an existing factory in Chengdu, while 40-series Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) cars will be produced at a new factory in Luqiao that is currently under construction. The new range-topping S90-series SPA cars will be assembled at a third plant in Daqing. “With 3 plants, and the designation of one car line for each plant, Volvo creates an efficient production structure ensuring future capacity for growth”, said Volvo chief Håkan Samuelsson. The shift to China will eventually be felt in Europe, affecting Volvo’s existing factories in Sweden and Belgium. The Gothenburg plant will continue to build the 60- and 90-series, however the Belgium facility will be scaled back to just the 40-series. The shift does not appear to immediately affect Volvo’s plans for its South Carolina plant, which will build SPA-based vehicles for the domestic market and export. +++

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